We need to talk about pluralism in schools

Dr. Mike Ghouse   September 3, 2016   Comments Off on We need to talk about pluralism in schools

“The State has a fundamental responsibility to cater for parents who do not want to send their children to a faith-based school”, writes Michael Kelly

It’s mid-August, and already parents have laid plans for their children’s’ return to school next month. Predictably, the opening of the school year will bring more controversy with extensive media coverage of the handful of non-Catholic children who have been unable to secure a place at the local Catholic primary school due to over-subscription.

As a survey in The Irish Catholic earlier this year showed, less than 2% of Catholics schools in the State are over-subscribed and therefore forced to apply admission criteria which often involves prioritising Catholic children in a Catholic school.

This is a particular problem in some Dublin suburbs where successive governments have failed dismally to keep up with population growth by providing extra school places and more diverse schools to reflect the fact that there are more and more people who are not Catholic by either tradition or conviction.

It’s a sad fact that some schools are unable to accept each and every child due to space constraints and limits imposed by the Department of Education. But, when the media blizzard hits as sure as night follows day, it’s good to remember that it is a problem that affects a small minority of children in a small number of communities, mostly in Dublin.


There’s an odd paradox in the debate around education. It’s become almost de rigueur to berate over-subscribed Catholic schools for being physically incapable of accommodating more children than they can have space for. At the same time, we’re told that removing Catholic influence from schools will fix the problem. What many commentators who oppose Catholic parents’ right to have their children educate din a Catholic school apparently faith to see is that it is more school places that are needed.

The State has a fundamental responsibility to cater for parents who do not want to send their children to a faith-based school. This must be provided for, but parents campaigning for such schools should direct their ire in the correct direction: the Government which is actually responsible for providing for more schools rather than the local Catholic schools which are struggling to accommodate all-comers with limited resources.

The issue is part of a wider debate on pluralism in education that Ireland desperately needs to engage with. As a contribution to this, The Irish Catholic will host a major conference in Dublin on October 20 to look at the issue. Speakers will include Francis Campbell of St Mary’s University, Twickenham – a former UK Ambassador to the Vatican and major voice on Catholic education.

Other contributors will include Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, a former Minister for Faith and Communities in Britain, Ruth Kelly, Education Secretary in Tony Blair’s Labour government, Irish Catholic columnist Baroness Nuala O’Loan and Prof. Daire Keogh of St Patrick’s College, Drumcondra. Watch this space for more information.

Strange occurrences in a small Irish village A new documentary film on Knock Shrine opens in selected Irish cinemas next weekend (see page 13). Strange Occurrences in a Small Irish Village aims to tell the story of Knock today through the lives of local people and those who minister there. I saw a preview screening of the film last week, and it is a beautifully-made film and a powerfully-told story. It avoids clichés and stereotypes without seeking to be a pious retelling of the story of the events of 1879 and Knock’s place in the renewal of the Church. It’s well worth watching.

Suffer the Christians? Former Labour leader Pat Rabbitte, writing in The Sunday Business Post at the weekend, reflects on the plight of the forsaken Yazidi people who have been persecuted and murdered by the so-called Islamic State. In his column, Mr Rabbitte observes that “the brutalisation of the Yazidi people should not be forgotten”. He’s right, of course.

But, it’s remarkable that nowhere in his lengthy column does he refer to the plight of the Christians who have, arguably, suffered an ever worse fate under so-called Islamic State. There is no hierarchy of victims in this brutal conflict – nor should there be, but we do need to ask why persecuted Christians appear to be the only unmentionable minority in the region. Is it that many westerners, used to seeing Christianity and the Church as a powerful institution, simply cannot comprehend that Christians can ever be a powerless minority?


Article Courtesy – IrishCatholic.ie

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